Hail to the 1st Continued

We now return to the regularly scheduled blog. Let’s take a look at the second half of the 1st Amendment:

“or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The right wing makes fun of the Occupy movement and the left makes fun of the Tea Party. But both of these movements have the right, under this section, to gather in protest. Having grown up in the 60s and early 70s, not far from Kent State University, this is something which I respect greatly.

In May of 1970 4 students were killed and 9 were wounded on the campus of Kent State University by members of the Ohio State National Guard. One of those wounded was permanently paralyzed. The protest against the Cambodian invasion had been ordered cancelled by the University, but the protesters were determined to exercise their right to protest.

The problem began when the protesters disregarded one word in the 1st Amendment: peaceably. When they were approached with orders to disperse they began throwing rocks, The soldiers chased them out of the Commons area, and that’s when the Guardsmen made their first mistake. Instead of letting them go they followed them out of the area. They had their way but they forced the issue.

Some of the students, who had been retreating, turned and began throwing rocks again at the soldiers. The Guardsmen then opened fire on the students. By all accounts, both sides made mistakes. But in reasoned thought, the mistakes of the Guardsmen were by far the greatest:

1.They were wearing riot gear, so the rocks may have left bruises, but they would have suffered no lasting damage.
2.They had the students on the run and, instead of consolidating their position on the Commons, they followed them
3. They opened fire.

This was a tragedy which could have been avoided. The Campus should have allowed the protest under the 1st, but they attempted to shut it down. And the USCoA of the 6th district ruled that the order to disperse was lawful; in direct violation of the 1st Amendment. The students received no justice; 4 were killed and one paralyzed, and the Bill of Rights was trampled on.

This was, of course the beginning of the end of the Vietnam war and the aborted Cambodian invasion. The nation rallied around the incident, and through massive protests and student strikes, even those who had supported the war before it, began to change their minds. I had just turned 13 when it happened, but I was acutely aware of what was happening a short drive away.

Only two other incidents left such an indelible mark on me as a child, one of which was JFK’s assassination. MLK Jr’s assassination, five years later, cemented my distaste  for actual violence (I already knew that movie violence was staged, so I am still a horror movie buff), but the Kent State killings pushed me firmly into the ranks of the left wing. And though I have edged towards a reasoned center on many things, I still consider myself to be in the camp of the left.

This should be a lesson for the Occupy movement. I consider the people at UC Davis who sat and allowed themselves to be pepper sprayed to be heroes. Keep up that type of behavior and the authorities will reveal themselves to be the thugs which they are. But do  not react violently, because the cost is too great. Yes the Vietnam war ended, but it took three more years (the official end in 75 was after the unofficial end of 73) and cost us hundreds more dead soldiers and medical personnel.

Those who say they are strict constitutionalists, and who applaud the actions of authorities in regard to Occupy are, in essence and spirit, rejecting this part of the 1st Amendment. As I have said before, the hypocrisy of some people astounds me.

The 1st Amendment is, by order and importance, the greatest one of the Bill of Rights. As a writer I appeal to other writers to spread this message as far as you can. Artist, musicians, and film-makers, please make this a central theme. We need to stop this erosion of that most important right. If we do not. we can all kiss our professions goodbye. And the cost to the United States of America will be even greater.


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